Review by Giddy Pillai
Mark is an early twenty-something, wide-eyed, fresh out of home and nursing a crush on his much cooler housemate Effie, who he tells himself is safely unattainable. He shares a sense of humour and a love of letters with his mum, with whom he trades handwritten thoughts that are too difficult to say out loud, and a love of the ocean with his almost-twin brother John, who he adores. He’s down to earth and charming, with a palpable anxiety about him. You can just tell he’s the kind of person that’s prone to sitting up all night googling his latest fixation. His demeanour is easy-going, but there’s a pulsing undercurrent of darkness that at times bubbles up and consumes him. He has the irrepressible energy of youth, but also the kind of beleaguered self-awareness that suggests he’s seen a lot of life for a young person. His mind is at once replete with small recollections which he describes in exquisite detail, and bursting with big feelings that he struggles to articulate at all. He’s cynical about love, but he chooses it fiercely anyway. He’s also grieving, in an ugly way that has brought him all the way to rock bottom, but yet he persists, grasping at the moments of beauty that flower around him. He’s the messy, beautiful creation of actor, dancer and debut playwright Thomas Weatherall, Belvoir St Theatre’s 2021 Balnaves Fellow.
Blue is Mark’s one-man stream of consciousness, and Weatherall, who is both writer and star, brings him to life with skill and heart. Weatherall is an exquisite writer and a captivating performer; a natural storyteller with a real eye for the beauty in contrast. He brings intimate moments vividly to life, then juxtaposes them with big-picture reflections. He gives Mark ample time to sink into his darker thoughts as they surface – and this hits right in the gut – but the relief of a well-timed laugh is never too far away. No part of Blue feels contrived in the slightest; it’s real in a way that’s devastating and tender and moving to the core.
Art hits different when it comes from a truthful place, and it’s clear that Blue does. While it isn’t an autobiographical work, Weatherall describes it as a ‘deeply personal fiction’, built out of four years’ worth of diarised reflections. As an actor, he pours himself generously into Mark, infusing him with a vulnerability that fans of the Heartbreak High reboot might recognise from his breakout performance as Malakai.
The finesse that Weatherall brings to script and performance is matched perfectly by the rest of Blue’s creative team. The set, designed by Jacob Nash and Cris Baldwin, is fashioned into a sculptural polystyrene wave, with its own inbuilt pool. This gives Weatherall something physical to interact with, helping to make Mark’s deep connection to water tangible. It’s an ingenious device, and an arresting image. The wave also serves as a canvas for projections that seamlessly mirror Mark’s state of mind (in the hands of lighting designer Chloe Ogilvie and video designer David Bergman). Similarly, sound and music, created by Wil Hughes, draws the audience into Mark’s inner world, evoking nostalgia at all the right moments. Every piece of this production is individually stunning, but, under the thoughtful direction of Deborah Brown, no part overshadows the others; all the elements work together as part of a harmonious, integrated whole.
The Balnaves Fellowship provides Indigenous stage creators with the opportunity to have their work collaboratively nurtured to life by a creative team over an 18 month period. It’s an important and much-needed initiative that has helped bring a diverse range of Indigenous-led work to life, and that allows fresh voices like Weatherall’s to be heard at their strongest. He’s knocked this one right out of the park, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
In a writer’s note to Blue, Weatherall says:
If nothing else, I hope this play makes you talk to your friends and family, love each other, set boundaries, read better books, swim in the ocean, and listen to music constantly!
It’s a wish that’s both humble and enormous, and one that I think has been realised in spades. As Blue reaches its conclusion, I’m left with very runny makeup and the feeling that I’ve just had an 80 minute moment of intimacy with a real person; the kind where we drop the masks we put up and let our mess hang out; where we say things that are hard to say out loud and laugh and cry and laugh again; where we finally emerge feeling a little tender, but bonded in a beautiful, permanent way. In the days since, Mark has come into my mind often. He reminds me to love fiercely, even when it’s scary, to look for beauty, especially when everything seems barren, to ride the waves of life, and to always remain open to those beautiful, unvarnished moments with the people that make up my tribe.
Image Credit: Joseph Mayers